Elena Bowes speaks to author Lynda Cohen Loigman about her latest novel, The Matchmaker’s Gift.
The Matchmaker’s Gift is a dual timeline work of historical fiction. This charming, fast-paced story is about a matchmaker in the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, who can see other peoples’ soulmates, and her granddaughter who has inherited her gift, but problematically is a divorce attorney in the 1990s.
It’s a very joyful book to read. Was it a joyful book to write?
It was. Because I wrote this book during the Covid lockdown, working on it was the ultimate escape. Once I am deep into the writing of a new novel, my favourite thing to do when I get into bed is to shut out all real-world thoughts and live inside the world of my story for a while. Throughout 2020, that’s what I did almost every night. Instead of staying up worrying about my loved ones getting sick or wondering whether my kids would be able to go back to school, I thought about Sara and Abby. That was a tremendous gift because it allowed me to block out all of the darkness and focus on writing a hopeful story.
What were the more challenging parts to write?
The courtroom scene was the most difficult part of the story to execute. It’s a very cinematic section of the novel, and the choreography of the characters is complex. There are three different judges with distinct personalities, and I wanted to make sure that each voice was unique. Toward the end of the scene, several of the women who Sara matched during the story return and testify on her behalf. Getting all of the details right took many drafts and countless re-writes. I ended up working on it for weeks, but it became one of my favourite parts of the novel.
You said in an interview that you write historical fiction, not romance although this novel, your third, has plenty of love in it. What was your writing process – did you begin by doing the historical research first and then afterwards devise your fictional plot based on what you had learned from your research?
The first step in writing The Matchmaker’s Gift was to choose a time period for Sara. Her granddaughter’s time period, of course, would necessarily be bound to hers. I contemplated writing about a matchmaker in the 1970s (so that the modern timeline would be present-day) and also in the 1950s. Eventually, I chose the 1910s and 1920s because of the early research I did and all of the fascinating tidbits I learned about marriage and matchmaking in New York at that time. The research really had to come first.
Your character Sara has a great sense of humour. For example, early on Sara’s granddaughter Abby has a dream about her grandmother who has just died. (Chapter 2 so not a spoiler) When Abby wakes in the morning, her grandmother’s voice is in her head. “Would it kill you to dream of me in better clothes? Maybe make me taller or a little thinner, at least.” I was wondering if Sara is based on someone you know, like your own grandmother?
Although she isn’t based specifically on any one person, Sara definitely has some of my grandmother’s spirit and an awful lot of her confidence. My grandmother Tillie had a difficult marriage and she absolutely had to fight for her place in the world. Things did not come easily for her, and she was an extremely hard worker. Despite the challenges she faced, Tillie had a startling amount of sass and humour. Sara definitely has those qualities.
To explain her magical gift Sara tells people “I see what I see, I know what I know.” How did you know you needed some kind of mantra for Sara and was it easy to come up with this one?
As I was working to create Sara’s voice, I absolutely heard my grandmother Tillie speaking. Tillie had a few phrases that she used to repeat—my favourite being, “You’re right, you’re right, you’re not wrong.” There was nothing profound about the phrase—it’s almost nonsensical if you think about it—but all of Tillie’s grandchildren (including me) still quote it to this day. It took on a kind of life and meaning of its own, partly because of its simplicity and partly from saying it over and over. The same holds true for Sara’s mantra. I wanted her to have a phrase like this because I wanted her granddaughter to carry those words with her, even after Sara was gone.
How is Sara Glickman’s struggles as a matchmaker in the early 1900s a modern story?
Throughout the novel, Sara fights for respect and for a proper place in the world of her profession. She faces bullying and harassment from her male counterparts, and she struggles to earn a fair wage for her services. Her struggle is the same one that many professional women face today.
Tell us the challenges of writing a dual-timeline story and what advice you would you give to writers wanting to write a story that spans different time periods?
For me, it’s important that both stories in a dual timeline narrative carry equal weight. The goal is to make readers care about both timelines—not just skim through one to get back to the other. My advice is to strengthen the connections between the two timelines as much as possible and to ensure that the characters from both timelines have fully developed storylines.
In your acknowledgements you thanked your Thursday Zoom crew. Can you tell us how they were instrumental in getting this novel to the finish line?
My Thursday Zoom crew is made up of six authors and one book influencer. We started Zooming every Thursday in the early days of the pandemic. That time together became incredibly special for all of us because it gave us time to connect and to replenish our collective creative spirits. Because writing is such a solitary process, that time together was incredibly important.
I also read that your next book includes a touch of magic. Can you tell us a bit about that project, and what appeals to you about sprinkling a bit of magic in your stories?
My next book is inspired by my husband’s great-grandmother, who graduated from pharmacy school in 1921. A drug store is a wonderful setting for a story because people share all kinds of secrets with their pharmacists. This story has a love potion that goes horribly wrong and some semi-magical chicken soup. It’s also a nod to O. Henry’s short story The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein.
I’ve been giving myself more freedom lately to include elements in my novels that I’ve always enjoyed—a bit of magic, a bit of romance—whatever I think will add to the reader’s enjoyment.
What new books are you excited to read?
Amy Poeppel’s new novel, The Sweet Spot, comes out on 31 January, and it’s fantastic. I’m so excited for everyone to read it! It’s a hilarious and chaotic ride about three unique women, a baby that belongs to none of them, a dilapidated brownstone, and the connections we form even when we don’t mean to.
Other books I can’t wait for coming in 2023:
Julie Gerstenblatt – Daughters of Nantucket
Nicola Harrison – Hotel Laguna
Jennifer Rosner – Once We Were Home
Fiona Davis – The Spectacular
Lauren Willig – Two Wars and a Wedding
Thank you so much for answering these questions, and for writing such a terrific book. I loved it and can’t wait to read your next one.
Thanks so much for having me! I’m so grateful to you for reading The Matchmaker’s Gift!